Around the world, 773 million people lack basic literacy skills, and 617 million children and adolescents do not meet minimum reading and math standards.
Lockdowns and social distancing efforts have exacerbated existing educational and literacy challenges and inequalities. In fact, the United Nations found that, during the initial phase of the pandemic, school closures disrupted 62.3% of the world’s student population.
Literacy is a key component of the UN’s Global Goals, which aim to end extreme poverty by 2030. The skill is an influential tool in helping people to escape poverty and build healthy and sustainable societies.
The world recently celebrated International Literacy Day with a special focus on teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Here are five ways you can continue to show commitment to supporting literacy around the world.
1. Follow inspirational figures advocating for literacy.
Stay informed about the challenges to education and the important work advocates are doing to help.
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist at the forefront of the fight for better education. In 2012, when she was only 15 years old, she was shot by the Taliban after speaking out about girls' rights to go to school.
Today, Yousafzai is committed to ensuring that girls can safely access 12 years of quality education.
"One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world," Yousafzai said, addressing the UN.
Educate a girl, change the world.— UN Women (@UN_Women) September 8, 2020
This #LiteracyDay, join @Malala in advocating for the right to education!pic.twitter.com/CuUgwhFMVS
Muzoon Al-Mellehan is a young Syrian activist who is also fighting to keep children in school. Prior to the Syrian civil war, 90% of Syrians were literate, and strong educational infrastructures allowed students to attend 12 years of school for free. A Syrian refugee herself, Al-Mellehan is fighting for a world where Syrians are still able to learn to read and write safely, despite the conflict.
After leaving her job at Goldman Sachs, Erin Ganju founded the organization Room to Read and, in 2014, won the Library of Congress Literacy Awards' prestigious David M. Rubenstein Prize for her work reducing global illiteracy.
"Our goal is to be a catalyst for change and to create a sustainable program that’s integrated into the community," Ganju said about the organization.
In addition to following activists like Al-Mellehan and Yousafzai, you can follow organizations like the United Nations, Global Citizen partner Education Cannot Wait, and the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, as they all advocate for global education on social media.
2. Advocate for marginalized groups to receive equal access to literacy programs.
World Vision found that 130 million girls aged 6 to 17 are not in school. Girls face more barriers, such as child marriage, early pregnancy, and gender-based violence, that make them accessing education more difficult than their male counterparts. Without access to school, girls are unable to attain basic literacy levels.
Ganju’s organization Room to Read has literacy programs with specific emphasis on girls’ education. Further, you can also support bills and legislation like the Keeping Girls in School Act to show world leaders that girls' literacy and education is important.
Students with disabilities are also less likely to have specialized education where they can learn to read and write. The UN conducted a survey and found that, in 25 countries, students with disabilities are less likely to be literate. In Indonesia, 92% of adults without disabilities have basic literary skills, while only 52% of adults with disabilities do.
The same study found that women with disabilities are also less likely to be literate; in Mozambique, 49% of men with disabilities can read and write while only 17% of women with disabilities can.
The Center of Literacy and Disabilities Studies is an organization that is working to ensure everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, has the chance to learn to read and write.
As a part of ensuring equal access to education, the UN hopes to eliminate all discrimination in the education system by 2030. In order to make that goal a reality, you can advocate for girls and people with disabilities to be included in literacy programming and support organizations that prioritize marginalized groups’ education.
3. Donate to organizations that prioritize education.
There are several organizations working to provide students with quality education and to improve literacy skills around the world. You can find charities dedicated to education that are affiliated with the UN by visiting the Global Goal 4 page and checking the 'Get Involved' section.
Save the Children is focused on community development in vulnerable communities. In 2018, the organization reached 8 million children worldwide. Some of their work includes early child care and development initiatives and programming designed to create a culture of reading and writing inside and outside of the classroom.
Help2Read is a nonprofit organization working towards upping literacy rates in South African communities by offering tutoring programs, delivering boxes of books, and providing reading services.
READ Global works in rural communities in Asia and helps build libraries and reading centers designed to offer an education to people of all ages.
Your donation to these organizations or any similar ones could help organizers provide services to even more students.
4. Do the work in your own community.
If you are not able to donate money, you can donate your time and support education in your own community. Access to affordable and quality education is a problem everywhere in the world, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Go through all of the old books in your house and see if you can donate them to a library or a school near you. With the ongoing pandemic, look for bookmobiles or libraries that will deliver books to people in your community.
You can also reach out to your local school and see what school supplies they need or offer to start a school supply drive in your community.
Reach out to charities, organizations, or schools near you and see if you could tutor or mentor a child. With online video calls, there are plenty of ways to stay safe while also helping children pursue their education.
5. Raise awareness about the importance of global literacy.
If you are reading this article, you have the privilege of being literate and being able to understand and communicate. Take advantage of that privilege by using your literacy skills to build awareness about the importance of literacy.
Speak with your friends and family about the value of education and literacy in breaking the system of poverty, and advocate for safe access to education around the world.
You can also join Global Citizen by taking action on issues connected to education here.